An office space
Study reveals disturbing patterns of employee dismissal and mistreatment. Josh Edelson/AFP

For most people, the workplace is a home away from home, a place where we don a professional persona, separate from the more informal one we use at home.

The workplace often serves as a microcosm of the larger world and the office environment represents a portion of society in its own bubble. Ethics play a crucial role in ensuring this environment remains professional and while the human resources department is usually the leader on this subject, it is often up to each individual worker, no matter his or her role, to maintain decorum, respect and professionalism.

According to Corporate Wellness Magazine: "Workplace ethics encompasses the moral principles and values that guide behaviour and decision-making within an organisation. It involves fostering an environment where employees are treated with respect, fairness and dignity, and where honesty, integrity and transparency are encouraged. Ethical conduct extends beyond legal obligations and is based on principles such as trust, accountability and responsibility."

Unfortunately, numerous individuals have experienced the distressing reality of working under a boss who engages in bullying and belittling behaviour. This type of conduct manifests in various ways, including publicly insulting subordinates, invading their privacy and engaging in gossip about them behind their backs.

These toxic actions have far-reaching consequences, extending beyond employee dissatisfaction and stress. They can lead to more severe outcomes such as alcoholism, family conflicts and health issues. Regrettably, abusive bosses persist, causing havoc and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Ultimately, a toxic boss can have a significant impact on workplace ethics.

A toxic boss often creates an environment of mistrust. When employees feel their boss is untrustworthy or manipulative, it can erode trust between colleagues as well. This lack of trust often leads to negative behaviour such as withholding information, spreading rumours or engaging in deceptive practices.

Toxic bosses often rely on fear and intimidation to exert control over their employees. This only results in a hostile work environment where employees are afraid to speak up, express their opinions, or report ethical concerns. Fear-based management discourages transparency, honesty and open communication.

Some bosses engage in favouritism, showing preferential treatment to certain employees while disregarding others. This creates a sense of unfairness and inequality, which undermines the principles of fairness and justice in the workplace.

Leaders have a significant influence on the behavior and actions of their employees and it is important they are aware of this and act accordingly. If a boss displays unethical behaviour, such as dishonesty, disrespect, or unethical decision-making, it only sets a poor example for the rest of the team. Employees could then feel justified in engaging in unethical conduct if they see their boss doing the same, further eroding ethical standards within the workplace.

A toxic boss will have a detrimental effect on employee morale and engagement if he or she is not stopped as soon as possible. When employees are subjected to a toxic work environment, their motivation and commitment to the organisation will decline resulting in overall poor performance for the company.

Dealing with a toxic boss can be challenging, but employees can take ethical approaches to navigate the situation. Always maintain self-awareness and recognise the impact the toxic boss is having on your well-being and work performance as well as that of others. Prioritise self-care, both physically and mentally, to protect yourself from the negative effects of the toxic environment.

If you feel a boss is mistreating you or others, reach out to trusted colleagues, mentors or human resources to discuss the situation and seek guidance. Keep a record of specific incidents, including dates, times and descriptions, to provide evidence if needed in the future.

When interacting with a toxic boss, strive to maintain professionalism and assertiveness. Clearly communicate your concerns or disagreements while remaining respectful. Focus on the behaviour or issue at hand rather than attacking the person.

Determine your personal values and ethics, and strive to uphold them despite the toxic environment. Make ethical decisions and demonstrate integrity in your own actions and interactions with others. Make an effort to cultivate relationships with colleagues who share similar values and ethics. Collaborate with them to create a supportive network within the organisation. This network can provide emotional support, advice and solidarity in dealing with the challenges posed by the toxic boss.

Educate yourself about your rights as an employee, including company policies, procedures and any applicable labour laws. Familiarise yourself with available resources, such as employee assistance programs, counselling services or legal advice, to seek support or guidance if necessary.

If the toxic environment persists and adversely affects your well-being and professional growth, it may be necessary to explore external options. This could involve transferring to a different department, seeking opportunities within the organisation, or, as a last resort, exploring employment opportunities elsewhere.

Ideally, employees should consult with professionals, such as human resources or employment lawyers when possible since they could provide further guidance based on the specific circumstances and legal frameworks within your jurisdiction. It is thus important for organisations to recognise and address toxic behaviours exhibited by bosses or leaders.

Implementing clear ethical guidelines, fostering open communication channels, providing training on ethics and leadership, and promoting a culture of respect and fairness can help mitigate the negative impact of a toxic boss and promote a more ethical workplace environment.

By Daniel Elliot

Daniel is a business consultant and analyst, with experience working for government organisations in the UK and US. On his free time, he regularly contributes to International Business Times UK.